Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

  • Overview

    ADHD is a disorder that makes it difficult for a person to pay attention and control impulsive behaviors. He or she may also be restless and almost constantly active. Although the symptoms of ADHD begin in childhood, ADHD can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Even though hyperactivity tends to improve as a child becomes a teen, problems with inattention, disorganization, and poor impulse control often continue through the teen years into adulthood.

    Causes of ADHD

    Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and across the country are studying the causes of ADHD. Current research suggests ADHD may be caused by interactions between genes and environmental or non-genetic factors. Like many other illnesses, a number of factors may contribute to ADHD such as:

    • Genetic makeup
    • Cigarette smoking, alcohol use, or drug use during pregnancy
    • Exposure to environmental toxins, such as high levels of lead, at a young age
    • Low birth weight
    • Brain injuries

    Warning Signs

    People with ADHD show an ongoing pattern of three different types of symptoms:

    • Inattention: Difficulty paying attention
    • Hyperactivity: Being overactive
    • Impulsivity: Acting without thinking

    People with ADHD may have a combination of symptoms interfering with daily functioning or development:

    • Overlook or miss details, make careless mistakes in schoolwork, or during other activities
    • Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play, conversations, lectures, or lengthy reading
    • Seem to not listen when spoken to directly
    • Failure to through on instructions, finish schoolwork, chores, duties, or may start tasks yet quickly lose focus and get easily sidetracked
    • Have problems organizing activities, such as doing tasks in sequence, keeping materials and belongings in order, keeping work organized, managing time, and meeting deadlines
    • Avoid or dislike tasks that require sustained mental effort, such as schoolwork or homework, or for teens and older adults, preparing reports, completing forms, or reviewing lengthy papers
    • Lose things necessary for tasks or activities, such as school supplies, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, and cell phones
    • Become easily distracted by unrelated thoughts or stimuli
    • Forget daily activities, such as chores, errands, returning calls, and keeping appointments

    Signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity may include:

    • Fidgeting and squirming while seated
    • Getting up and moving around in situations when being seated is expected, such as in the classroom
    • Running around or climbing in situations where inappropriate, or, often feeling restless
    • Being unable to play or engage in hobbies quietly
    • Being constantly in motion or “on the go,” or acting as if “driven by a motor”
    • Talking nonstop
    • Blurting out an answer before a question has been completed, finishing other people’s sentences, or speaking without waiting for a turn in conversation
    • Having trouble waiting his or her turn
    • Interrupting or intruding on others, for example in conversations, games, or activities

    Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean a student has ADHD. Many other problems, like anxiety, depression, and certain types of learning disabilities, can have similar symptoms. If you are concerned about whether you or your child might have ADHD, to talk with your school personnel. However, the diagnosis is to be made by a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist, primary care provider, or pediatrician.

    Treating ADHD

    Although there is no cure for ADHD, it is commonly treated with medication, education or training, therapy, or a combination of treatments.


    For many people, ADHD medications reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve their ability to focus, work, and learn. The first line of treatment for ADHD is stimulants.


    Research shows that therapy may not be effective in treating ADHD symptoms. However, adding therapy to an ADHD treatment plan may help patients and families better cope with daily challenges. Parents and teachers can help children and teens with ADHD stay organized and follow directions with tools such as keeping a routine and a schedule, organizing everyday items, using homework and notebook organizers, and giving praise or rewards when rules are followed.